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British Pub Etiquette and Guide to Restaurants

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While in the UK, you may find yourself wondering about British pub etiquette as not everyone is familiar with how they operate or the overlap and differences between pubs, bars, and restaurants in the UK.

So many people who are visiting the UK are eating out a lot, particular if you’re staying at a hotel without kitchen facilities.

Flamebread on a table
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And that’s a good thing!

London has a ton of culinary delights to explore in pubs, restaurants, and street markets across the city.

Just don’t be that person making a fool of themselves by waiting for hours at the pub for a waitress to come to your table – more on that soon.

Hey! Sidenote! Planning on visiting the UK or moving to the UK?

For more advice, photos and friendly help, click here to join my UK Travel Facebook group to carry on the conversation with fellow travelers and UK experts.

Restaurants in London

Restaurants in the city function much like they do elsewhere – it’s often good to make a reservation if you know of a popular one you want to try out, but there are tons of restaurants all over so you’ll never have a hard time finding somewhere to eat if you’re flexible.

When you go into a restaurant, wait at the front for a moment if no one is there as someone will come to greet you and ask how many are in your party.

Once you’re seated with your menus, the British culture starts to kick in.

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“Good service” here is not a waiter who constantly comes up to your table and asks if you’re ready, but one who gives you plenty of time to chat and relax throughout your meal.

Dining is an experience and a social event, not just a means to an end.

Your waiter should come back in a decent amount of time to take your orders once decided, but don’t be afraid to make eye contact and put your menus down to show that you are ready to go.

In the UK, appetizers are called “starters,” entrees are called “mains” and desserts are called “puddings.”

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This should help you navigate the lingo your waiter or waitress uses when trying to explain the best British food in London!

You often will just order your starters and entrees and then desserts will be a later order once you have finished.

Once your orders have been taken, it’s time for you to settle in and get cozy.

Starters will obviously come out first, then after enough time to let you enjoy, they will be cleared and your mains will be brought out.

One tip to show your waiter that you are finished, whether it’s a starter, main, or dessert, is to put your fork and knife (or spoon) together on your plate side by side.

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This is the polite way to show that you are finished with that course.

If you leave your utensils askew, the waiter may leave your plate for quite some time as they think that maybe you are still working on it or going to try someone else’s food, etc.

Once you have finished with your entire meal and all of its courses, you will need to ask for the bill (called a check in some countries, but a bill in the UK).

Your waiter will usually not just bring you the bill, as that is seen as rude and rushing you.

When it comes time to pay, you should also know that tipping is not mandatory in the UK, and a tip of around 10% is more common if one does tip.

Waiters and waitresses earn a living wage and do not rely on tips to help bridge a gap – this is one of the things many people don’t know about London – though of course they do appreciate it.

Sometimes, the tip will already be added as a “service tax” to your bill, so check for that before paying any extra.

Pub Etiquette in London

A pub is a center of social life in London, not just for people who drink but for couples, families and friends.

It does not equate to a bar, as though it does have a bar, it doesn’t share the same “late into the night” atmosphere of a bar.

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Most pubs in London close about 11pm and are used throughout the day from lunchtime for people to grab a bite to eat and some drinks if they want to.

It’s not even uncommon for a business meeting to be held in a pub if it’s a casual one.

Etiquette wise, it’s important to know how a pub operates.

You seat yourself in a pub, so when you go in, just find a clear table or space and sit your party down.

Menus may already be on the table, or you can get one from the bar.

When you’re ready to order, take note of your table number if there is one and go up to the bar and place your food and drinks order.

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No one will come around to get your order.

Once you’ve ordered and the food is out, someone will come bring you your food and any utensils, as well as probably asking once if there is anything you need.

After that, it’s up to you to go ask for it.

When you’re finished eating, you can leave your dishes on the table and someone will clear them, but again, they aren’t there like a waiter or waitress to consistently see that you’re doing okay.

They are more functional – there to deliver food and the basics, and then clear your table at the end.

Because there exists no waiter or waitress in a pub, you do not tip in a pub.

There may be a small tip jar at the bar, but it is not expected.

Save your hard earned cash and spend that money elsewhere in London!

Bars in the UK

Bars do exist in the UK, but the difference is that they wouldn’t serve food like a pub does and they are much more adult-oriented and for going out at night.

Whereas most pubs don’t have age requirements or only start them at a certain time, a bar would be an 18+ (the drinking age in the UK) establishment.

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